As a concept for a new game show, it reads like a scything parody from the pages of a satirical magazine such as Viz, but Weg van Nederland – a programme the title of which translates as either ‘Mad about the Netherlands’ or ‘Far from the Netherlands’ – is all too real. A product of the VPRO stable – one of many entities in Holland’s Byzantine system of public broadcasting – and presented by Waldemar Torenstra, an actor who forsook his degree in economics at the University of Amsterdam for a theatrical career, Weg van Nederland pits asylum seekers facing imminent removal from Holland against each other in a quiz show about Dutch culture, language and history; the ‘winner’ nets a prize of €4,000.00 to spend in the country to which they will be deported, with consolation prizes including bags of tulip bulbs and bulletproof vests.
The spectacle is a bizarre one: Torenstra, in attire inclining towards the casual end of smart casual, directs proceedings on a lurid pink set that, together with the presence of ersatz air hostesses, gives the show an aesthetic redolent of Eurotrash chic; meanwhile, the audience watching at home is encouraged (using their laptops, tablets and smartphones) to play for a top prize of a return ticket to Curaçao, an old Dutch colonial possession adjacent to Venezuela that was a key element in the Atlantic slave trade and which is now a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Beyond the innumerable ironies and obvious moral questions that a programme such as Weg van Nederland raises, however, Mediolana is concerned that the show exemplifies at least two rather negative trends:
1. Intolerance. Weg van Nederland could only be produced in a climate where topics such as immigration and cultural integration are handled with extreme crassness and hysteria by a significant percentage of the population. It should come as little surprise that Holland, once a synonym for social tolerance, is presently fertile ground for the Partij Voor de Vriheid, a political movement fronted by the somewhat alarmist Geert Wilders; the PVV’s agenda, which includes the active repatriation of criminals with non-Dutch citizenship, dual nationality or even those with Dutch nationality but with origins in the Netherlands Antilles (including, naturally, Curaçao); restrictions on immigration from ‘new’ EU member states and the Islamic world; and the opening of a Guantánamo Bay-style detention facility has proven a hit with voters: the PVV won 15.5% of the votes in the 2010 Dutch general election, up from 5.9% in 2006, and are propping up the current government in Holland, a minority administration led by Mark Rutte.
2. Euroskansenisation. A concept deftly defined by the Croatian intellectual Slavenka Drakulić, Euroskansen is – for the moment – a fictional museum modelled after the Skansen open-air museum and zoo located on the island of Djurgården, central Stockholm. Euroskansen comes into existence because of, amongst other reasons, the ‘refusal to admit and to integrate immigrants, a workforce that because of the ageing population was much needed’; in this vision, Europe itself ossifies into a large, open-air museum/zoo, with Chinese tourists pounding the streets of Brussels, Paris and Munich en masse, clamouring to learn the secrets of the continent’s demise. With much of the eurozone moribund for the foreseeable future and short- and medium-term growth prospects being throttled by debt, EU states should be falling over themselves to attract the skilled taxpayers of the future; instead, they are deporting them to the likes of Cameroon and Chechnya, sometimes even with a game show appearance to inscribe on their CVs.